As I’ve been writing Pride and Prejudice adaptations for some years now, I’ve observed that there are certain qualities readers of the genre look for in a book—certain things make a book tick, like the internal workings of a clock. If a piece is missing, readers tend to ignore it. Through my limited observation of other authors (or as much as I can glean from them by watching rankings on Amazon) I think it is a common theme across all authors, and not limited to myself. I thought it might be a good exercise to go through and list some of what I have seen and solicit others’ opinions. Thus, in a very definite order, here are some of the things I’ve seen:
- Darcy and Elizabeth: this is one that will catch you every time. Readers of P&P want to read Elizabeth and Darcy, and if they don’t get it, your book is likely to be ignored. To date, the worst performing book I have written was my Lydia story. My recent release of the first of my trilogy has also been received with tepid interest, though that may be in part because there are still books to come. I have a friend whose sister wrote a Kitty story, and it was received about as well as my Lydia story. If you want to make waves, write Darcy/Elizabeth.
I hesitate to call P&P fanfiction, as it’s gone past that. But if I compare it to fanfiction genres I’ve read at times, the books are by and large much more professionally written, even when they’re only posted on a site like fanfiction.net. Good grammar, proofreading, spelling, etc., is a must in this genre, whereas in Harry Potter fanfiction, for example, readers are much more willing to wade through something filled with errors if it’s a good story or has a good central idea. Part of that is, of course, the fact that if you’re publishing something and make it available for purchase, you’d best make it look as professional as you can.
I have not been able to confirm this for other authors, but in my own works, I’ve seen a definite trend where a book is received better if I avoid the misunderstandings between Darcy and Elizabeth. There still have to be obstacles, but if those obstacles are more exterior to the couple rather than between them, that seems to play better with my audience. In conjunction with this:
A strong villain. It doesn’t necessarily matter if the villain is one of the traditional villains such as Miss Bingley or Lady Catherine, but if you’re going to write a story where Darcy and Elizabeth don’t misunderstand each other, you’ll need someone else to create tension. Of course, it’s beneficial not to reuse the same tired old plotlines over and over again. For example, I’ve run Elizabeth and Darcy through the gauntlet of others trying to keep them apart, but if I were to have Elizabeth kidnapped every book, it would get old after a while.
Don’t write angst for the sake of angst. This is one I’m most interested in, as I’m not really much of an angst writer. While a certain level of angst helps build tension, to me there’s nothing worse than a writer who belabors the point with misunderstanding after misunderstanding. It seems to me the books which have featured more angst have generally been more poorly received than those which don’t.
There are other things I’ve seen which I can include, but these are the biggest ones in my opinion. What do you think? Do you have something to add, or disagree with one of these? Please let me know!
I also wanted to drop a quick note to set the expectations of those who read The Heir’s Disgrace. I expect to release the next volume some time in the fall, now tentatively scheduled for the third week in October. I hope I’m not provoking too much weeping and gnashing of teeth with this announcement, but I have some other projects I need to concentrate on in the interim. No rotten vegetables please!